The following is an off-the-top-of-my-head response to a discussion board question on Coursera.org. While you may get lost reading it, I hope you can stick with it and gain some insight. My goal is to continue working on this type of problem and fully think through some of the issues of modern philosophy, theology, and sociology.

The question: “Does it make sense of talk about a ‘subjective’ truth? If something is true, then it can be recognized as true by everyone, can’t it? Why is Kierkegaard so interested in subjective truth and what does this mean?”

My (existential?) answer: I’m not sure if anyone can understand the importance of “subjective truth” unless he or she has experienced it. There is a level of insight that steps beyond a general knowledge about a thing. Consider a loving relationship (a complicated example, but universally grasped as a notion): There is the level of understanding a loving relationship through empirical observation and rational thought. It can be appreciated to cause positive health benefits and those who experience it, one may witness, appear to be happier than those without a loving relationship. But in order to fully appreciate a relational love like this, it must be experienced. Can the value of a hug be measured? Is a kiss necessarily rational? Sure, these things can be rationalized, but as expressions of love in a relationship, the meaning is of utmost importance. And I think that is the key to “subjective truth” – meaning.

Without meaning, it doesn’t matter how many hugs are given on a single day in a population. To go beyond the loving relationship example, consider the meaning of a child’s finger painting. The value is based upon the meaning, not the content. Even a painting of Dali or van Gogh requires meaning to be appreciated. Here is where the “subjective truth” lives; it is external and real in the world around us (objective truth), but it is also a matter of the internal grasping of a thing/moment/object/person.

One last example would be other people. A universal or “outside” truth would be that people have value – it can be measured in utilitarian, existential, or essential terms, etc. (have your pick). But a human life is a short blip on the timeline of history and is appreciated by recognizing one’s own short lifespan. By understanding and appreciating one’s own shortness of life, one can then better appreciate everyone else’s short lifespan. Further, take for example that the people closest to us are far more important to us. This is because they have a subjective value (truth) inside of us. Those that are mere acquaintances or strangers have much less value, but they still retain the value of being human. So while I can say, “My wife is the most important person in the world”, I would have to add “to me” at the end. Because Josh’s wife is the most important person in the world to him. Or Carrie’s best friend is the most important person in the world to her. (Or my son’s blanket is the most important thing in the world to him!) All of these reflect an internal truth that is truth externally and this is all through meaning.

This is so important to Kierkegaard in relationship to Christianity (from what I’ve learned so far) because a Christianity that is merely a set of customary practices and beliefs is close to useless. If there is no personal experience of a relationship of the individual with the object of Christianity (i.e. Jesus Christ), then Christianity is of little personal value and lacks any sense of true meaning. In modern terms, it is merely stopping a a stop light because that’s what’s done and it keeps you safe. Just like being a Christian keeps you from going to hell. Who has ever experienced true subjective meaning by yielding at a stop light? The light is a tool for safety. For Kierkegaard, the Christians of his time (and also now) were using the person of Christ as a tool for safety. In order for them to fully appreciate Jesus Christ, an internal meaning would have to be created. The artist, the lover, the parent – these all have objects that give them subjective truth (meaning). It is a relationship where something is given of one’s self (the subject) to its object. Likewise, a Christian must give of his or herself to Christ.